Benjamin Franklin biographies – which should you read?

I can’t recall who led me onto Benjamin Franklin(B.F.). It might have been Ryan Holiday or Tim Ferriss, apart from these two however a lot of historical leaders have claimed to either read or always carried along The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. For this reason I bought it several years ago.

I do not know exactly what I had expected, but I know that I felt like it did not deliver. Boy was I disappointed. I think I struggled through the first 10-20 pages, but just could not grasp how so many people could have said good things about this book – I felt like I learned nothing. I aborted mission and put it back on the shelf.

Several years later I once again somehow came across something about B.F., but this time the recommendation was to read the biography by Walter Isaacson Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. I hesitated – having my last encounter with a B.F. book easily recalled it was kind of a struggle to get myself convinced, but after having read quite a lot of reviews i found a used example and bought it.

It could be a combination of lower expectations and perhaps even my own maturity, but this time a B.F. book did not disappoint. Walter Isaacson really writes in an engaging style and makes the reader feel really familiar with this fun, strange and entertaining character. I finished it with ease and was somewhat disappointed of having to put it back on the shelf – it was so engaging.

After having finished it, I picked up the autobiography once again. This time I went through it much more easily. But I also felt far more familiar with the content as much of it had been explained in the Walter Isaacson book.

Having now read both, I would recommend the one by Walter Isaacson. I think the disappointment with the autobiography comes from the fact that I expected more from it. I expected something in the lines of Meditations from Marcus Aurelius – a book full of good advice on how to live your life – but the autobiography is in many ways just what it says on the box – a biography. You can still learn from it, but I honestly believe that you are better of reading Walter Isaacson. I felt like most of what was covered in the autobiography was also covered by Walter Isaacson, only in a more engaging way.

B.F. sure is a colorful character and there are a lot of takeaways from his way of life. And also a lot of strange paradoxes and lessons on how not to live your own life. What you can’t take away from him however is how much value he gave as a “founding father” of America. His cunning way of maneuvering public life and politics is fascinating, while he to some extend could be accused of totally lacking in the private/family life.

Draw your own conclusions, but I can really recommend the biography by Walter Isaacson, whether you know anything about B.F. or not. It’s a fascinating and engaging read. Now I really want to get through Walter Isaacsons biography on Steve Jobs, which I have on the shelf, and will be ordering his biography Einstein: His Life and Universe very soon – his writing style really engages me.

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